Harvest Home, Monmouthshire, 1796

This is from a wonderful book I’ve just discovered, The Diary of a Farmer’s Wife 1796-1797 account of a single year written by Anne Hughes who lived in the remote countryside near Chepstow, Monmouthshire. It’s wonderful as it is written in her dialect, which is sending my spellchecker into meltdown, but you can hear the speech vividly. I love it as it shows so many members of he community under one roof, with the workers being served by their masters and the local vicar, showing the importance of the harvest to the whole comunity:

THE PARTY BEGINS –

Aug ye 17 Yester eve we did have a right royal time att ouse harvest home partie. Mistress Prue and her sister did cum in the fore noon to help us get all reddie. We did set the tabels yerlie, and did put green bowes from the box bushes all about the beste kitchen, tied with cultured ribbons; and when done it did look kerrie fine.

We did put my spinet in a corner, and the quire did cum with their fiddels for the dancieng.

At 6 of the clocke all here, and John did tell all to take their places, the childer settng at a tabel to their selves in the oute kitchen with Sarahs sister to look after them and to see they did hav plenty to ett; whiles the elders did get on with it in the best kitchen.

John did take to top of the tabel, and did carve the hams and baked fowels, while Parson Jones did take the other end and cut up the beefe and bacon chine. And Farmer Welles did fill upp the glases his side while we ladies did set the other side of he tabel. Johns mother cummen yerlie in the day did serve the bake hare, which everrie boddie did praise grately.   

Some muthes too full to talk till the beer and cyder did losen their tunges; then did they chatter right well. After all had fedd and satisfied inside, Sarah and carters wiffe did start to clere the tabels; which being much to do, me and Mistress Prue, Mistress Jones and Johns mother did help to put the dishes in the dairies for safetie.

THEN TO DANCING

Then back to find the men folk had put the tabels agen the walls, and the fiddels tuning up for a danse; to which we did all futt it right merrelie. the childer did hav a good time albeit overfull from their good feeding.

Then we did set down the while the men did drink beere and cyder, and the ladies each a glass of wine, elderberrie or primmy rose, which they fansied.

Carter now did stand up and sing a hunten song, evry shepperd and his wiffe did sing a song of he poacher, and divers others likewise. Then Mistress Prue did play olde tunes on my spinette, as did me also; the children gathering round., Mistress Prue did ale them sing a harvest himn, which she did play on the spinete for them, and which they sang finely. Then to danceing agen. Old Granfer Tollu did ask me to trip a measure wiht him, whihc I did, and right well for all he be 80 cum next marche. Then more singing and so on, tilll at last everrie boddie did set them selfes down with the pipes and glasses to tell tales.

LOUD CHEERS FOR ANNE

Olde Granfer did tell us of a goste what did walke everie satterdaye night past the beech tree road, who turned out to be a old grey goate. At this we did laffe, and ole granfer was so excited he did set down with a bump on the floor; and I did give him a glass of primy rose wine to take the hurt from his back-sete, and did tell him to set in Johns arm chair.

So dd we pleasure oure selves till nigh mid nighte. Then the tabels layed open all did fall to, and after Parson Jones uppad says the health of the ladies, gentlemen; which they did drink heartily. then we do drink to the men. Then John did say drink to those who had worked to give them a ood supper. This they did agen and agen, till Johns mother did bring forrard Sarah and me and carters wiffe in front of all, and did say 3 chers for us, which they did right hartily. Then once more passing the jug and bottels round, more talk and cheering; till all holding hands we did sing to our next meeting. At length they home, right full and merrie; and then me, carters wiffe, Sarah and Johns mother to the dairie to wsh the dishes, which were mannie.

Mistress Prue and her sister did help to wash the glasse; they stopping to sleep with us. Then to the tyding off he kitchens reddie for the morne.

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5 thoughts on “Harvest Home, Monmouthshire, 1796

  1. Unfortunately, Barb, there are significant questions about the authenticity of this book. The original, if there everbwas one, conveniently ‘disappeared’. What is published was either heavily edited, amended, or perhaps invented in the later 20th century by a lady called Jeanne Preston, I think. It’s all very murky. You might like to take a look at http://www.annehughesdiary.co.uk/.

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  2. It’s odd, but when I looked at it I thought the dialect was a little weird. I come from Monmouthshire, though further up the Eastern Valley, and although I know the rural areas can be a bit more “West country”, I did think that the dialect here seemed more from the other side of the border. William’s comment explains a lot!

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    • Thanks for this. I did find it almost too good to be true – I assumed it had been tinkered with.But the mystery is intriguing. That said, the story does feel ‘real’ if my perception of the time can be trusted. Accounts of such domestic events are rare, so I am lost as to what to do with this. File it along with Rowley, Ossian and Ern Malley, or accept the broad sweep of the narrative, albeit with caveats?

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